Someone stuffed the urn, but « bearplane » 747 is still the biggest bear in Alaska’s Brooks River
Bear Force One, Jumbo Jet, Bearplane – by all accounts Bear 747 is a portly creature.
It was gigantic in July, when the bears of Brooks River in Alaska began chowing down on salmon to make winter’s weight. He grew more gigantic as the weeks went on and emerged victorious on Tuesday as the winner of everyone’s favorite flabby animal contest, Fat Bear Week 2022 – despite fake votes for one of his contestants.
As the name suggests, Fat Bear Week is dedicated to sparking public interest in brown bears as they prepare to hibernate for the winter. Bears suffer from hyperphagia, which means they never feel full when they sit down and gorge themselves on salmon.
The week, which pits unwitting bears against each other online in an elimination-style competition, has exploded in popularity since it began eight years ago, and this year people have voted more than a million votes for their favorite candidates.
« It means the world to us, » said Chris Kliesrath, a Katmai National Park and Preserve ranger.
« It gives us the opportunity to share how healthy our ecosystem is…By being invested in bears, we hope they are invested in doing what they can to help with conservation, especially in the Alaska region with bears. »
Bear 747 fits all the aircraft-related nicknames the park gives it – two years ago, when it first won the title, the park estimated its weight at 1,400 pounds – but it doesn’t It wasn’t always as big as it is now.
Kliesrath said he was quite small when he was young, but « it definitely became his name. »
« To see him in person is amazing. He’s a bit beaten up, because he’s one of the most dominant bears, so he defends his territories and his mating rights. But he’s a very strong, very resilient and tough bear. so he earned his title, » Kliesrath said.
He’s had some stiff competition this year, especially from a young woman who grew to epic proportions over the summer. Back in July, when Bear 901 was just a shadow of her former self, she didn’t even seem like a contender for the crown – but before and after photos show her journey from Just A Lil’ Bebe to Chonk Champion.
Bear 747 also had human competition, when an avid voter spammed online polls during the semi-finals for another of his challengers, Bear 435 (also known as Holly). Holly was following him by about 6,000 votes before it happened, and the surge in her support caught the attention of Explore.org, which is partnering with the park to organize the event.
« While not uncommon, it’s very rare for a bear to return late in the day like this, » Candice Rusch, director of new media for Explore.org, wrote in an email. His team eliminated the fake votes – around 9,000 of them, and even a few that had been cast for 747 – and added security measures to prevent future spam.
« The important thing to remember is that whichever bear gets the most votes in the Fat Bear Week contest, they’re all winners, » Rusch wrote.
« We hope that the awareness brought about by Fat Bear Week will translate into caring and action in the way that makes the most sense for each individual. »
Kliesrath said some bears have now left the river, while others will stay until the salmon run ends.
« Lack of food is a major trigger for them to know it’s time to hibernate. That, combined with the shorter days and cooler temperatures, kind of signals to them that it’s time to hit the road and to find a place for the winter, » she explained.